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Inspiring Inclusion in Wine

Inspiring Inclusion in Wine

Fifteen women who are redefining the wine industry


The world of wine has long been a boy’s club. As Portuguese winemaker Ana Diogo Draper once noted, “Being a woman in the wine industry is like being a woman in any other industry. You have to work twice as hard to prove yourself worthy of the position you hold.” And yet, women have undeniably made significant strides in wine, marking a journey of progress that continues to unfold. 

March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day. This year the IWD theme is “Inspire Inclusion.” The theme – published on the IWD website each year – invites us to reflect on the possibilities that “a world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive” could offer.  Indeed, inclusivity within the wine industry is becoming a powerful driving force for change.

At The Vintner Project we celebrate women across all the diverse roles they hold within this dynamic business. However, true advocacy for women in the wine industry goes beyond mere acknowledgment; it manifests through tangible actions such as equal pay, increased representation, and ongoing recognition of their contributions on a daily basis, not just as part of an annual celebration. 

As we embrace IWD and Women’s History Month in its entirety, we wanted to dig into this year’s theme a bit more to uncover what it means to some exceptional women in the wine industry. Specifically, we wanted to understand how they incorporate the “Inspire Inclusion” ethos into their daily professional endeavors. The insights we gathered from these women shed light on their commitment to fostering an inclusive environment, and stand as a testament to their dedication to breaking barriers within the wine industry. Here’s what they had to say… and what we are sipping in celebration of women around the globe.

Once you’re done reading that, check out this round-up of great women’s rights organizations worth supporting.

Avery Heelan, Winemaker, Larkmead Vineyards


Avery on Inspiring Inclusion: 

“Inclusivity drives the passion of the future of the Napa Valley. I find it so inspiring to see such a diverse, young, empowered new generation taking the lead. As a young female winemaker myself, it is so important to collaborate and learn from many types of people from all over the world and all types of backgrounds. This is what drives us to grow and learn, and it is so important for all people to have a voice and a seat at the table.”

Wine we are toasting Avery with:

Larkmead Firebelle


Meghan Zobeck, Winemaker, Burgess


Meghan on Inspiring Inclusion: 

“Inspiring inclusivity on the winemaking side, for me, takes the form of mentorship. Extending beyond gender, the more people that we can encourage to enter this career path who don’t fit the dominant mold, the closer we are to breaking that mold.”

Wine we are toasting Meghan with:

Burgess Cygnus Pinot Gris

Philana Bouvier, President, Demeine Estates


Philana on Inspiring Inclusion: 

“A lot of my inspiration for fostering inclusion in the industry comes from my own personal experience – amidst my trials and tribulations, I found my path and also community. I am humbled to now be in a leadership position to guide a new company forward, which also enables me to help open doors for other people from diverse backgrounds. Aside from paying it forward, inclusion should be a priority for all leaders in the industry as an increase in diversity results in an increase in ideas. That’s why, nearly two years ago now, I started the Dream It, Live It program at Demeine Estates, which aims to empower entrepreneurs with the tools they need to be successful in this business, and in tandem, inspire inclusion from the ground up.”

Wine we are toasting Philana with:

Villa Sandi Asolo Prosecco Superiore Brut NV

Jessica Saghafi, Assistant Winemaker, Geyser Peak


Jessica on Inspiring Inclusion: 

Inspiring inclusion for women in a male-dominated industry means actively promoting and supporting our participation, advancement, and equal treatment within the wine industry. It involves fostering an environment where we feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute our unique perspectives and talents, regardless of gender biases, and stereotypes. I feel this especially in my case, with my age, being a young adult in an industry of seasoned veterans. I embody this in my day-to-day by asking questions and being confident in my opinions, feedback, and perspective. Taking the time to educate myself and understand other perspectives is truly the basis to feel empowered and have my voice and opinion be heard.


Wine we are toasting Jessica with:

Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc

Beth Forrest, Winegrowing Manager, Forrest & Brigid Wines


Beth on Inspiring Inclusion: 

“For me, inclusion means truly engaging in the best way to do things. We are all guilty of getting stuck in the same way of seeing and doing things. Inclusion is truly the art of adapting and embracing a new way of seeing things and how it might shape your business or style. More diverse teams are inspiring, so let people, technology, and a shifting environment stimulate new ideas and embrace change. The future is an exciting opportunity if it’s done differently.”

Wine we are toasting Beth with:

Brigid Sauvignon Blanc


Megan McGrath Gates, Director of Winemaking, Lucas & Lewellen

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Meghan on Inspiring Inclusion:

“Inspiring inclusion for women in our industry feels effortless for us in Santa Barbara County. We enjoy a high concentration of women winemakers, representing 10% of the winemaking population! In celebration of this, we even have a local annual event where solely hands-on women winemakers pour to showcase their wineries.

“Inspiring inclusion daily for me as a woman winemaker means having a woman enologist and balancing our team with female harvest interns. Our presence is an integral part of the equation, but the essence is more about an inner well of self-confidence. With 25 years of experience working as a woman in the wine industry, I have realized the most profound element of true inclusivity is authenticity. My genuine self is an edifice built precariously over the years. Initially, the components were over-responsibility, workaholism, and constantly trying to prove my worthiness. The galvanizing element that has turned that precarious structure into a brick house of wisdom, undeniable skills, and a deep sense of belonging was learning not to masquerade as a caricature of a winemaker.

“My greatest accomplishment is paving my own way, be it with business interactions, scientific analysis, or the most inspiring artistic and creative winemaking decisions. I bring the authentic, strong, and confident leader from within instead of mimicking or trying to embody someone else’s template. To be free to be ourselves and not shapeshift into the mold of our male counterparts is real inclusion.”

Katerina Axelsson, CEO & Founder, Tastry

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Katerina on Inspiring Inclusion: 

For me, inspiring inclusion is about recognizing and valuing the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, and providing equal opportunity for all. Equality of opportunity ensures that everyone has the chance to climb the ladder of success, but it’s up to each individual to determine how high they want to climb.” 

Wine we are toasting Katerina with:

Center of Effort Il Due

Krista Chaich, Executive Director, Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association


Krista on Inspiring Inclusion: 

“For me, ‘Inspiring Inclusion’ means to see the differences in people, to appreciate and celebrate those differences and to recognize that every individual matters. I’m fortunate to work on a daily basis with a diverse group of people from different generations and ethnic backgrounds who have differing opinions on a wide variety of things from politics to religion. In a business setting, I truly believe that including everyone’s voice leads to more creative discussion, better decisions, and more positive outcomes.”

Wine we are toasting Krista with:

Carter Estate Blanc de Noir

Ana Lovaglio Balbo, Founder & Owner, Susan Balbo Unique Stays


Ana on Inspiring Inclusion: 

“For me, inspiring inclusion means breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes. Women in the wine industry bring unique perspectives, creativity, and talent to the table. By embracing and empowering women in all aspects of the industry, we not only promote diversity and equality but also elevate the quality and innovation of our wines.”

Linda Trotta, Winemaker, Bread & Butter


Linda on Inspiring Inclusion: 

I grew up in a big Italian family. Our homemade wine was a central part of most meals. When I made the decision to make wine professionally, I quickly learned what a male dominated industry it is, and the challenges I would face as a female. My touchstone throughout my career is guidance from my father, who raised me to believe that girls could do anything that boys could do, including winemaking. I later learned that my great-grandmother led our family’s home winemaking operation for many years – she was our first ‘Director of Winemaking.’ Both Dad and Great-Grandma have been huge sources of inspiration throughout my life and career, from whom I draw when mentoring other women in the industry.”

Wine we are toasting Linda with:

Bread & Butter Red Blend

Kimberlee Nicholls, Winemaker, Markham Vineyards


Kimberlee on Inspiring Inclusion: 

“I’ve been making wine at Markham Vineyards for three decades, and in that time it’s been encouraging to see more women enter the wine industry. That said, the vast majority of lead winemaking positions in Napa Valley are still held by men – about 88% as of 2020. I’m thankful for the incredible mentors early in my career who set an example for inclusion, and feel it’s important to pay it forward by doing whatever I can to create an inclusive environment at Markham. We have an all-female winemaking, viticulture and operations team – which is unfortunately still a rarity – made up of five women who all bring their own unique flavor to the team and are experts in their respective fields. Not to mention, the strong women on our marketing and DTC teams, who each contribute to making it a very inclusive environment here.”

Jamie Benziger, Head Winemaker, Imagery Estate Winery


Jamie on Inspiring Inclusion: 

Growing up with two sisters, Kelly and Jill, it was always women’s day at our house. However, I was determined to create my own path. My Dad, Joe Benziger, the most incredible winemaker I know, was a mentor throughout my career (and still is today). Plus, I’m blessed to have a family filled with wine experience. Now as the head winemaker leading Imagery Estate Winery, I’m always looking for ways to share the knowledge and experience I’ve gained, bringing others into wine.”

Wine we are toasting Jamie with:

Imagery Pinot Noir

Hailey Hartford Murray, President & Co-Owner, Hartford Family Winery


Hailey on Inspiring Inclusion: 

When I had my first child, I felt especially grateful to have had the example of other women in executive/management positions to look to as role models. Many of these women were also mothers and it was so inspiring to see the ways in which they were able to navigate the everyday joys and struggles of parenting and simultaneously dedicate themselves to their work. 

“I feel lucky to have been able to nurse both of my children even though my work often required that I travel and, as a result, have pumped practically everywhere – hotel lobbies, airports, the back seats of taxi cabs – you name it! While as a society we have made progress in increasing the number of public lactation rooms available to nursing mothers, my experience brought home to me the importance of continuing to advocate for policies that enable women, as well as other marginalized groups, to participate fully at work. This year’s theme, Inspire Inclusion, to me means acting and carrying yourself in a way that inspires others to participate. Diversity of thought and worldview, of lived experience, encourages more creative problem solving and opens the door to opportunities that would otherwise be missed.”

Jill Russell, Winemaker, Cambria


Jill on Inspiring Inclusion: 

Inclusion to me means that gender is so well-represented in the workplace that no one is surprised to walk into the cellar and find a winemaker who is a woman. I’m working toward a future where women winemakers are simply called winemakers. Luckily, at Cambria, we are already well down that path – indeed, women hold positions here from proprietor and winemaker to enologist.”

Wine we are toasting Jill with:

Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay

Tracey Shepos Cenami, Executive Chef & Cheese Specialist, La Crema


Tracey on Inspiring Inclusion: 

I love this as a theme! Part of being a boss/leader is to mentor the team and grow them to be, not only better employees for you but to be able to eventually send them out to their next venture in the world and feel confident in their skills and aspirations. I am on the board of the Les Dames D’Escoffier Sonoma County and nurturing and supporting all, but especially, young women in our community is our focus. Girls should be able to dream big and endless, with no parameters based on their gender. I am so excited and honored to be included here- I am so very passionate about the impact that I can have on young women following their dreams and finding success.”

Wine we are toasting Tracey with:

La Crema Saralee’s Vineyard Chardonnay